By Hannah Allam, National Public Radio
The Facebook message instantly struck Andrew as suspicious.
The note was from a stranger in Virginia named Cody who claimed to be a distant relative based on the uncommon last name they share. NPR is withholding it for security reasons. Cody’s profile picture showed a burly masked man in militia-style get-up with a semiautomatic rifle slung across his chest.
“Um. Yeah. I was concerned,” recalled Andrew, a 31-year-old music producer in Los Angeles. “That’s probably the nicest way I could say it.”
Andrew figured it was an identity-theft scam. Or, because the note had arrived during last summer’s racial justice protests, maybe a right-wing infiltration attempt related to his work as an organizer with Black Lives Matter groups.
“I was very hesitant, obviously,” he said. “But I also was intrigued. I’ve never met another person with my last name that I didn’t have a direct relationship to.”
Andrew warily accepted Cody’s offer to trace his genealogy. Cody returned with records showing that they were eighth cousins; the research checked out with Andrew’s own. “Once he got all the way back to the 1700s,” Andrew said, he was convinced that Cody was legit. He wanted to learn more.